When it comes to conserving wetlands and other waterfowl habitats, Ducks Unlimited's greatest strength has always been its members and volunteers. DU supporters number more than 1 million strong across North America, and their dedication and support are critical to the success of the organization's conservation programs.
DU's ranks also are filled with the world's most experienced and dedicated waterfowlers, people who collectively possess an immense storehouse of practical hunting know-how. Here are some of the editors' favorite waterfowling tips that have been submitted by DU members from across the nation.
1. Camo Cord
Nothing beats natural vegetation for concealment in duck hunting. To hold natural camouflage materials on my duck boat, I use stretch cord that I purchased at a kayak supply store. Line the sides, bow, and stern of the boat with sections of cord spaced about a foot apart and secure them in place with four-penny nails, screws, or pop rivets. Next, weave vegetation such as cattails, bulrushes, or cornstalks between the cords to conceal the outline of the boat. If woven carefully, this material will remain in place throughout the season.
—Turner Wilder, Grantham, New Hampshire
2. Fighting Ice
Creating open water holes in frozen marshes and lakes is a very effective late season hunting tactic. If possible, break ice into large solid sheets that can be neatly pushed under the surrounding ice to create a clear, open hole. Many times, however, the ice is too thin to break up into solid chunks and shatters into numerous smaller pieces that cover the surface of the water. This not only looks unnatural to the birds, but the floating ice also quickly freezes together again. An easy solution is to bring along a large landing net. After breaking the ice, sweep the water's surface with the net until you've picked up all the floating pieces.
If the ice is too thick to easily break into sheets, try something else. Using a heavy axe or maul, break open a 3'x 3' hole. Standing in the hole, stir up the bottom sediments with your boots and kick muddy water onto the surrounding ice, creating the appearance of open water. Place shell or silhouette decoys on the skim of muddy water covering the ice to complete the illusion. On bitter cold days, you may have to kick new water onto the ice periodically throughout the hunt, but it's well worth the effort. My hunting partners and I have taken quite a few mallards and black ducks this way over the years.
—Andrew J. Rzicznek, Medina, Ohio
3. Stay Late
Waterfowl frequently migrate with or slightly behind cold fronts to take advantage of strong tail winds. On good migration days, don't leave the blind early. The best hunting often occurs late in the morning, when many migrating flocks stop to take a rest.
—Mike Checkett, Memphis, Tennessee
4. Crossing Over
Although most waterfowlers hunt with the wind at their backs and their decoys set in front of them, this setup has many disadvantages. First, as ducks approach the decoys, they are looking directly into the blind, making it much more likely that the birds will detect movement by hunters and dogs. Another disadvantage occurs while shooting. After the first shot, ducks quickly flair downwind from you, making follow-up shots more difficult and increasing the chances of crippling birds.
As an alternative, I like to position my spread so that ducks will decoy at a crossing angle to my blind. This makes my blind much less conspicuous to decoying ducks, and the birds are forced to cross in front of my blind again as they flair downwind from shooting. In many cases, my second and third shots are just as close, if not closer, than my first, and crippled birds will fall well within range for a quick follow-up finishing shot.
—Scott Dennis, Meraux, Louisiana
5. Easy Read
Many waterfowlers carry both duck and goose loads with them to the blind. After repeated handling, however, the printing on plastic cartridges can wear off or become illegible, making it impossible to tell which shot size is in the shells. To avoid confusion, I take a black magic marker and write the shot size or letters on the end of the brass casings on all my shells. This enables me to quickly identify and select duck or goose loads while they are in the shell loops of my hunting vest.
—Brian Garrels, Emmetsburg, Iowa
6. Clean Call
Without periodic cleaning, all sorts of particles—including food, tobacco, dirt, and dead vegetation—can accumulate inside your duck call. Follow these easy steps to keep plastic and acrylic calls clean and in good working order:
1. Gently remove the stopper (holding the reed assembly) from the barrel of your call.
2. Place both the stopper and barrel in a bowl or coffee cup and soak for half an hour in a combination of water and mild soap.
3. Remove them from the solution and rinse well under the tap.
4. Set them aside to dry.
5. Using dental floss or a dollar bill, gently clear any stubborn particles that may remain between the reeds.
6. Reassemble your call.
—Eli Haydel, Natchidoches, Louisiana
7. Calm Approach
Nothing spooks late-season ducks more than stationary decoys sitting in an open hole. On calm days I throw most of my decoys back in thick brushy cover and rely on calling to bring in the ducks. Circling birds only catch brief glimpses of my decoys while they're working, and, by the time they get close enough to get a good look, it's too late.
—Boggs McGee, Honey Island, Mississippi